I don’t honestly know how I feel about American Sniper.
I’m not into war movies to begin with. I think we glorify war far too often, and even when it’s a “good” war (a dangerous idea in any context), I don’t usually find it very interesting. True, it is a part of human history. Maybe the biggest part. It is worth exploring, but it’s also easy to get swept up in this idea of glory of war and nobility of the soldier on the battlefield and other such nonsense.
War is ugly. It’s horrible. It is, even when necessary, brutal and terrible and to ever see it as triumph isn’t something I can easily get behind. Even when a story takes pains to portray war as gray and dismal, it’s far too easy to miss the point and be swept up in the fervor of death and destruction.
What I do think is that there is a difference between fictional war stories and real ones. There is something very unsettling to me about venerating a real man who had the real job of shooting real people. I don’t say that in judgment of anyone’s actions, but we’re still neck deep in this Middle East quagmire, and there’s a lot of baggage all the way around.
Even removing all that, there’s something unsettling to me that we still innately celebrate our ability to kick ass as the measure of a man and a nation. It’s an action movie mentality, where if you can’t beat the hell out of someone, you aren’t worthy of respect. And, sure, I love action movies, but I don’t want to live in an action movie universe.
We are animals. Vicious, aggressive, tribal beasts. It’s built into our DNA, and while I don’t have any intrinsic problem with a movie like American Sniper, I do find many reactions to it disturbing. From what I’ve heard, it’s a fairly unexceptional film. Yet there are going to be those who love it simply for the fact that it’s a movie celebrating American violence (even if it means to bring more subtlety to the discussion) where a white American goes to a foreign land and shoots a lot of brown people.
I’m not going to call its hero a coward because he was a sniper. War isn’t won by honor. It’s a dirty business and to think otherwise is stupid. What does it matter if you shoot a man from six feet away or a thousand? You’re still killing somebody. Only an idiot would think there was more honor in killing at close range. There’s only more danger.
Amid all the discussion of war, violence, politics, racism, and blind patriotism, there’s just too much to really nail down here. I think it’s a shame that, on this MLK weekend, MLK still can’t really achieve mainstream acceptance while war and brutality continue to hold endless, visceral fascination for us as a species. In the end, we love watching people get killed.
It is who we are.
But I’ll admit, I’d love for it not to be one day.
Fighting the good fight, Writing the good write,